What You Need to Know About Measles - Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare

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Published on February 12, 2015

What You Need to Know About Measles

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It spreads through the air via coughing and sneezing or via direct contact with infected nasal or throat secretions. The virus remains active and contagious in the air or on infected surfaces for up to two hours and can be spread by an infected person from four days prior to the onset of a rash to four days after a rash erupts.

Measles starts with fever, runny nose, cough, and sore throat. A rash follows and can spread across the body. Three out of ten people who get measles will develop one or more complications including pneumonia, ear infections, or diarrhea. Complications are most common in young children, but can affect adults as well.

The U.S. started a measles vaccination program in 1963. Prior to this, an estimated three to four million Americans contracted measles each year. Of those, thousands were hospitalized and 400 to 500 died. In 2000, the U.S. declared that measles was eliminated from this country due to a highly effective measles vaccine, a strong vaccination program offering coverage in children and a strong public health system for detecting and responding to measles cases and outbreaks.

But measles is regularly brought into the U.S. by unvaccinated travelers who get the virus while in other countries. They then spread the disease to those not protected against measles, which leads to outbreaks. Those most at risk are people who can’t get vaccinated because they are too young or have weakened immune systems.

“The best defense against measles is to be vaccinated,” says Dr. Thomas Mankiewicz, a Family Medicine physician. “Children should get two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine with the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age and the second dose at four through six years of age.”

People who received two doses of the measles vaccine as children are considered protected for life and do not ever need a booster. A few people (about three out of 100) who get two doses of the vaccine will still get measles if exposed to the virus. This could be because their immune systems didn’t respond as well as they should have to the vaccine. Fully vaccinated people who do contract measles are much more likely to have a milder illness, and are less likely to spread the disease to other people.

“If you’re not sure whether you were vaccinated, talk with your doctor,” says Dr. Mankiewicz. “It’s the best way to protect yourself and your community.”

Dr. Mankiewicz practices at Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group - Family Medicine in New Berlin. To make an appointment, call 262-785-1366.

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What You Need to Know About Measles